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Despite my deplorbable dance skills, earlier this week, the VCU Pep Band taught me how to do the Haka, despite their better judgement. Thanks to Ryan Kopacsi, Matt Alvarez, Brandon Hess, Allyson Topping, Chris Harding and Kayen Wilborn for the help.


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Did you wake up this morning and wonder what the baddest band in the land, the VCU Peppas, were up to lately? Yeah, me too.

Well, while we’ve been attached to our sofas, watching one of the seven NCIS programs on TV, plowing through bags of Cheetos, The Peppas have been training like Rocky Balboa. Sidebar: I hope they trained with “Hearts on Fire” playing in the background. Anyway, The Peppas will be taking over the Earth soon.


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Hanover native Kayen Wilborn leads The Peppas through a traditional Maori haka Sunday at the Black and Gold Scrimmage.

Hanover native Kayen Wilborn leads The Peppas through a traditional Maori haka Sunday at the Black and Gold Scrimmage.

The VCU Basketball season hasn’t even started yet, but the school’s pep band, The Peppas, appear to be in midseason form.

Over the years, the band has used any number of tactics to distract opponents and whip VCU fans into a frenzied state, from riding (and playing) around Manhattan on a double-decker bus, to ripping through a non-traditional set list with unusual flair.

On Sunday, Oct. 26 at the annual VCU Basketball Black and Gold Scrimmage, The Peppas raised the bar with a thunderous rendition of a traditional New Zealand Maori haka. As of this writing, a video of the performance had caught the eye of several national media outlets and had been viewed nearly 23,000 times on YouTube. For a photo gallery of the performance, check out

The first haka, Ka Mate, Ka Mate, was composed in the late 19th century by Te Rauparaha, a chief of the Ngāti Toa Rangatira tribe. Hakas were originally performed by the Maori people in preparation for a challenge or battle, but in recent years it has been used at welcome celebrations, before athletic contests and a variety of other special events. New Zealand athletic teams popularized the performance of hakas prior to sporting events shortly after its introduction into the culture. New Zealand’s “All Blacks” rugby team has been the most visible of these, and the country’s national basketball team nabbed headlines this past summer for their performance during the FIBA World Championships.

According to VCU Pep Band Director Ryan Kopacsi, The Peppas will be performing a war haka called Peruperu (a dance with weapons), which is marked by fierce facial expressions and percussive movements, and has been used throughout its history to intimidate the opposition. It is considered a bad omen if a haka is not performed in unison.

“I was searching for intense things for us to do a few years ago and I was watching tons of videos. I was writing down ideas. Someone sent me a video of the All Blacks doing it. I was floored and couldn’t stop watching video after video. From there it was all about right place right time. The right place is here and the right time is now,” Kopacsi said earlier this week via email.

Also, according to the Haka Ka Mate Attribution Bill, passed the New Zealand’s Parliament in 2014, Kopacsi asked to include the following statement:

Te Rauparaha was the composer of Ka Mate and a chief of Ngāti Toa Rangatira. We accept the honor to perform this declaration.

In case you missed it, or if you just wanted to watch again, here’s Sunday’s performance:



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H/T to John Tatum.

The Peppas are already on their game. At Sunday’s Black and Gold Scrimmage, they broke out the New Zealand Haka dance. I’m sure other videos will emerge later in the year, but this can be your first look.


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I’m not going to lie, I enjoy that The Peppas just cruise around town in their Partridge Family bus, looking to get a game, seeking about bands to battle. Who wants to barnstorm across America with me, Rodney and The Peppas?


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This band does not sleep. By the end of the season, people will be (hopefully) humming the “War” song all the way from Brooklyn, to Omaha to Salt Lake and San Diego.


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We rode around all Friday morning with The Peppas. We’ll have our own video from the trip, which included stops all over Manhattan, up later, but here’s the clip of the band crashing the Today Show for the second straight year.


EDIT: I pulled a bunch of photos from my iPhone and from around the Internet to give you a look at some of the scenes from Friday’s ridealong.


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Thanks to Scott Wyant, who is pulling double-duty this semester with VCU InSight and in our office. Here’s a nice nat sound piece Scott recently put together on the VCU Pep Band, the Peppas.


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Rebecca Morrissette (left) had to give up her athletic dreams, but now blends music and basketball as a member of the VCU Pep Band.

By Michael Schuster

Below the surface of Rebecca Morrissette’s charming, albeit reserved, persona, there’s sincerity and courage. Her modesty and desire to succeed is enviable, but it’s her strength that has guided her inspirational tale through adversity.

When she was getting ready for high school, Morrissette, a junior forensics major at VCU, began noticing a sharp pain in her knees that forced her to seek orthopedic assistance. On the verge of trying out for her high school basketball team in Chester, Va., she and her family sought the medical attention of one of the best orthopedic doctors in Virginia.

Morrissette was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease, which causes inflammation, pain, and swelling of the bone and cartilage of the shin. X-rays also revealed a patellar dislocation of her knee, a condition in which the patella is unable to support ligaments and tendons surrounding the knee, and causes extreme discomfort. Although these injuries are not uncommon for female athletes, the orthopedic surgeon recommended an invasive surgical procedure to repair the knees with screws and other mechanical incisions. However, the surgery would also effectively end her athletics career, a harsh reality.

“Sports were my life,” Morrissette said. “I tried to focus and take my mind off of this terrible news, but athletics is all I really knew at that point. I tried to focus my time on school, but it was really difficult. I felt disappointed, I cried, and felt a lot of loneliness for a long period after the diagnosis.”



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The Peppas at the Final Four in Houston, Tex.

On the heels of an outpouring of national attention during the NCAA Tournament and a victory at The Battle of the Bands at the Final Four, The Peppas, VCU’s pep band, will release a CD in the coming weeks. It will be the band’s first album in about 10 years.

Band director Ryan Kopasci, has been overseeing the project. He believes that in recent years the band has really hit its stride, and that made this the perfect time for an album.

“We decided now because it’s been about three years since I took over the band 100 percent, and we’ve got a little different music, a little different talent level,” Kopasci said. “We had some recent success at The Battle of the Bands. We’ve got some kids that will be seniors this year who have been with this for a while, and we’ve got some alumni that play with the band that have put so much into this to get us moving in the right direction. We felt like this would be a legacy-leaver for those guys.”

VCU fans can expect many of their favorite tunes from basketball season, including, The Hey Song, War, Do What You Wanna, Crazy, It’s All Over and more.  Although the album will carry a few VCU-specific tracks, Kopasci hopes non-Ram fans enjoy it as well.

The band laid down the majority of the album months ago at Mills Godwin High School. Recently, Kopasci and the band have been fine tuning the tracks, including overdubs and the rerecording of some parts, in the home studio of an alumni drummer.

Kopasci says the album will also include some narrations, which will provide insight into the band’s history, as well as give thanks.

“There are a lot of people that helped us get here, and we want to make sure we give proper credit where it’s due,” he said.

The band hopes to complete the album in time for the start of basketball season. The band can’t legally sell the album because none of the music is original work, so the methods of distribution have not been finalized.

“We’re just a big cover band,” Kopasci joked.

The details will be worked out in the coming weeks. The CDs might be gifted to donors. They might be made available to the public. Several options will be considered. No matter what is decided, it won’t bother Kopasci.

“I have not given one ounce of thought to how we’re going to do that,” Kopasci said. “If we just give them away, I’m fine with that.”


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